I want to dive right in and talk about the cover of this issue of La Cuadra Magazine. Yes, it is an image of a tattooed Catholic schoolgirl in a short skirt and looking particularly sexualized. Yes, she is intentionally posed to look like the image of the Virgin Mary. Yes, it is a direct challenge to the judgments of — and socially acceptable scorn for — women who do not pretend to be saintly, women who express passion and sexuality, and also for those who decorate their bodies with tattoos. Yes, we’re expecting kickback from the conservative forces in town who tend to find our publication offensive and sacrilegious. Hell, we’d be disappointed if they didn’t say anything! We’re used to their anger. It helps us remember what side we’re on.
With this one, though, we’re also expecting tongues to cluck on the other side of the sociopolitical divide. We expect some opprobrium from our progressive, socially liberal brothers, sisters and stars, wondering how we dare put such an image on the cover of this magazine just one issue after featuring a story about Guatemalan girls as young as eleven having children.
Against those charges, we’d like to preemptively suggest that we feel the decision is defensible, even crucial. Moreover, as a way of introducing Eny Roland Hernández, our featured artist for this issue, I’d like to explain our choices.
First, if you’re offended by the sexualization of Catholic schoolgirls, we’ll note that you’re living in a target-rich environment. There are literally thousands of girls dressed in this uniform, or one very much like it, every day in Antigua. In the psycho-sexuality of our culture, there is no more iconic template of forbidden desire than a girl in knee socks and a short, tartan skirt. That, arguably, is the natural upshot of the dominant religion in our culture venerating youth and virginality while requiring adherents to repress their passions lest they be damned forever to eternal tortures, often sexual in nature.
Not to play too fast and loose with religious realities, but to a skeptic, church orthodoxy can be read as having been built to produce agonizing sublimation. What better way to mask the obvious sexualization of innocence than to so thoroughly normalize it that it is seen everywhere and yet cannot ever be discussed? It’s brilliant, really.
The problem, of course, is that agonizing sublimation tends to really screw people up. In a conversation with the artist about his work, Eny Roland Hernández pointedly noted that he attended a very strict Catholic school that restrained individual freedom of expression and taught abstinence instead of sexual education. “By the time we graduated, five of my close friends were parents,” he said.
That is why he chose, intentionally, to photograph a (twenty-three-year-old) model as a young, libidinous, desirable, independent being. It is also one of the reasons why we’re out on a limb with this issue and our question to readers is simple: Where are you?
The photographs of Eny Roland Hernández are personally revelatory and always thoughtful. (Consider who handed whom the apple. Consider all that you know about what happens to the body during crucifixion . . . or asphyxiation.) Yet, there is more to his art than individual expression; there is more history than one man probing questions of self, faith, morality, ethics and public propriety. Eny Roland Hernández is very much himself, but he is also exemplary of a new artistic movement in Guatemala. His work represents one facet of an increasingly complex response to the changing realities of this nation.
La Cuadra Magazine has featured Guatemalan artists in these pages for a decade. In that time, we have witnessed a slow, sometimes achingly slow, reach outward past the boundaries of a politically, sexually, socially, economically and religiously repressive society. Remember, only two decades ago, this nation had an active, dangerous, often vindictive domestic intelligence network. If you hung art on the wall of your home that some guest might find subversive (politically, sexually, socially, economically, religiously) then you might find yourself a person of interest. Being a person of interest was not something you wanted to be, and so the art of Guatemala tended to be dull, edgeless and decorative.
In the decade or so that followed the end of the war, those fears persisted. From 2006 to the present, the time this magazine has been in print, the post-conflict generation of artists has fought against the mundanity of that fearful world. Now, for a complex series of reasons that many of us are still trying to explain, the grand clock of dynamic change has clicked forward, finally, and landed us in a new world — the Post-post-conflict era.
In this new world, the artists of Guatemala, none better than Eny Roland Hernández, are creating work that will force a reaction from the old guard or it will utterly restructure the society. If these artists (and other members of civil society) are successful, then the nation becomes a more rational, beautiful, honest and accepting manifestation of human potential. If they fail, then Guatemala reverts to fear, repression and cruelty. We, at La Cuadra Magazine, believe that it’s about time that battle is firmly engaged and we celebrate the work, passion and artistry of the brave souls who will be on the front lines.
Bravo, Eny Roland Hernández. We’re behind you.